Michael Zirngibl, President and CEO, Angel.com

Angel.com, a subsidiary of MicroStrategy, is a leading provider of on-demand IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and call center solutions. Founded in 1999, Angel.com has provided more than 10,000 telephony solutions to more than 1,600 customers, including Reebok, Family Dollar and KB Toys.

Speech Technology Magazine sat down with Michael Zirngibl, president and CEO, Angel.com to discuss what has been going on at Angel.com in 2006 and what to expect moving forward.

Q. We're kicking off another SpeechTEK show next week, how would you sum up 2006 for speech technologies, and specifically Angel.com?

A. For Angel.com, 2006 has already been a phenomenal year.  We've nearly doubled our headcount and revenue, started a new outside sales team, signed over 100 new enterprise-class customers, and we're getting ready to officially launch an exciting new solution for the rapid deployment of outbound IVR applications. 

For the industry in general, I think that there's a lot of positive momentum. The speech industry is becoming more pragmatic. That is, there's less talk about technology and more talk about real business benefits. A result of this, and we're starting to see it, is that speech is broadening its appeal to audiences outside of just the large enterprise/call center arena and is now appealing to small-and mid-size businesses. That is something we at Angel.com have focused on for years.

For larger enterprises, speech is now being seen as a key enabler to rapidly increase the value of existing multi-billion dollar investments in Web infrastructure and not as a niche stand-alone technology.

From a consumer perspective, the most positive aspect of all of these developments is that enterprises and vendors are starting to realize that the power of speech lies in creating in easy, quick and ideally personalized interfaces.

Q. What are your success metrics? What has been a key factor driving Angel.com's growth?

A. We monitor a number of business metrics that help us guide the direction of the business, with the most important being recurring revenue growth, revenue per customer, customer retention rate, and opportunity-to-customer conversion rate. 

As for 'a' key driving factor in our growth—our growth has not been due to one main driving factor, but the combination of three factors. The first is that we are much easier to do business with than other alternatives. Want to dip your feet in the water with speech and next generation IVR? Sign up online and build your own app. Want it built? Get a Webex with one of our Solution specialists and receive your application within a few days or weeks (instead of months).

Additionally, the fact that we have a complete on-demand product for speech and call center solutions lets us pursue a broad variety of applications in an economical manner. This makes us the de facto leader for SMEs and also gives us lots of entry points into large organizations as well.

Lastly, we have created a company with a highly scalable business model. From Marketing to Sales to Product to Operations, we have put ourselves in a position of constant and ever-accelerating growth.

While there are certainly other factors, I would say that these three factors are the greatest contributors to our success to this point.

Q. Please tell us more about one of your new customers, such as Family Dollar, and what they are doing with speech technologies from Angel.com.

A. Family Dollar is actually a very interesting story.  With thousands of new employees coming on board each year, they required a solution for certain human resources functions such as training verification and benefits enrollment.  Since most of the company's employees don't have internet access, a web-based system was not an option.  And a paper-based system is both inefficient and extremely expensive.  In this case, a phone-based IVR solution turned out to be the best option for the on boarding of new employees.

Q. What should attendees be watching for at SpeechTEK from Angel.com?

A. As you know, Angel.com provides the only completely web-based toolkit for building, deploying and managing IVR and call center solutions.  Up until this point, our customers have used this toolkit for inbound IVR applications. Now imagine building and managing entire outbound IVR campaigns - appointment reminders, invitations, surveys - using just a web-browser.  Point, click and send your message to your target audience.  We'll be showing demos of the new outbound solution at booth 804. 

Q. Please tell us more about your recent partnerships with Skype and SalesForce.com.

A. Both Skype and Salesforce.com are among the most respected names in their industries and both have complementary technologies to Angel.com In fact, we see ourselves as the perfect glue between Enterprise and CRM applications, as represented by Salesforce.com and next generation telephony / VoIP networks like Skype.

While most of our product development with Skype is still under wraps (we expect to launch something later in the year), we are further along with Salesforce.com. We have already launched a set of applications on their AppExchange.  The first is SupportFone, a packaged speech application for help desks and customer service organizations that easily integrates with Salesforce.com's Service and Support offering.  The second is SurveyByFone, a generic application framework to capture customer data via speech and IVR that can be stored in and analyzed through Salesforce.com.

Expect to see a number of new applications and concepts, such as an open source library of functions to integrate any Angel.com-powered application with Salesforce.com, coming out over the next weeks and months.

Q. What do these partnerships mean for your customers?

A. Our customers will have access to state of the art technology without the need to invest huge amounts of money in capital expenditures. They will also be able to seamlessly and cost-efficiently put together end-to-end business solutions with best of breed technology for CRM, Speech and IVR and VoIP/SIP. They will be able to deploy solutions with recognized leaders in their respective industries that are financially stable, constantly growing and committed to continued innovation.

All these combined dramatically minimize the risk associated with speech deployments and provide a future proof foundation to successful application rollouts.

Q. What is your strategy for partnerships moving forward and has this changed from previous years?

A. Our strategy for partnerships has remained the same for many years: Creating an ecosystem of players that can help us broaden the reach of our on-demand speech and IVR platform and jointly provide the perfect solution for whatever business solution customers are looking for.

One thing that changed is that with our continued success and growth, we are now in a far better position to more actively pursue these partnerships and put substantial resources behind the most promising opportunities.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to add?

A: The only thing I would like to add and stress is that the biggest competitor for our industry is still non-consumption. Our industry is finally starting to go down the right path of becoming more business-oriented and customer-focused. This is critical to get speech out of the labs and into the hands (or ears) of millions of businesses and hundreds of millions of consumers. I would encourage every player in the industry to focus a more substantial portion of their efforts and resources on market expansion and not primarily competitive initiatives. This is what we are doing at Angel.com and we're very successful with it. 

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